Nehwal’s shot at top spot
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Nehwal is currently on 82,111 points, while Xuerui, ranked 2, has 89676. World No 1 Yihan Wang (90,032 pts) is out with an injury. The winner at Shenzhen picks 11000 points, while the runner-up stands to gain 9350. Making the semifinals could add 7700 to her tally. The relative math and the opportunity of finishing the year on a ranking high apart, the SS Finals could cap what Nehwal terms her "best-ever season."
"It was an excellent year because I won so many tournaments and the Olympics podium was obviously great, making it the biggest year of my career," said Nehwal, who has picked titles this year in Switzerland, Indonesia, Thailand and Denmark besides making the finals at Paris.
London, though, holds the pride of place, though she couldn't claim the gold. "An Olympic podium is special because everyone wants to be there, and I actually made it," she said with much wonder before flying out to China, pinching herself to believe it's real. "I went into that competition, telling myself repeatedly that it was just another tournament. But there was lot to celebrate when I won the medal. Not many Indians have been there, so it was special for my country too," she said.
It's that podium high she's searching for again, having tasted it at the CWG and then the Olympics. The SS Finals — a start to stop high-intensity affair — offers her an opportunity, having done well in this tournament earlier. Nehwal made the semis in her very first year as a Top 10 player in 2008, and repeated that performance in 2009.
She missed the season-ender owing to an ankle injury the year after, but made her best pitch for the title last December when she reached the finals and played one of her best matches against Chinese No 1 Yihan Wang in a three-setter loss. "I've done well in this meet. It's a tough tournament and pretty tiring as there are no easy games," she said. "I like playing tough matches, they get you to the top faster," she added.
Reluctant to set any ranking-goals for the next year, she craves an injury-free future of untroubled fitness. She even turned philosophical on the issues of injuries — empathising with her arch rival Yihan Wang. "It could happen to me as well, it's unfortunate." An SS Finals triumph this year though would give her the first big title of her career, a podium top-step she greatly craves.
Women's Singles Draws: Group A: Li Xuerui, Wang Shixian, Sung Ji Hyun, Eriko Hirose. Group B: Juliane Schenk, Saina Nehwal, Tine Baun, Ratchanok Intanon.
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